Fan’s View – no.11 – Wycombe away

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, September 16th, 2018  


The build up

The importance of this game could not be over-emphasised given our precarious standing in the table.  But it’s just seven games in and as with the Coventry fixture, a win would take us above our opponents.

In that game against the Sky Blues we got what we deserved and rightly remained second bottom. However, and this may make me look stupid because we obviously could lose and possibly get stuffed into the bargain, I want a little perspective brought into play.

Surely, Marcus Browne, James Henry and Ricky Holmes won’t all be so woefully off form again at the same time? And if they don’t show it in training may rightfully not start. Additionally we’ve got Gavin Whyte back and I’d always had that down as a positive even before his first touch in international football. Just think what a high he must be on.

After our latest defeat social media was full of (so called) fans absolutely slating the club and just about every player we’ve got. If you go by the maxim that a team is only as good as its last game, then probably fair enough but I don’t detect the same characters coming out full of praise after really good displays, like Sunderland the previous week. What we did at the Stadium of Light gave me hope that wasn’t totally wiped out by what we did next.

We really could have done with Whyte for the Coventry game but unlike Premier League and Championship sides don’t get the luxury of having free international weekends. I believe before a club playing in EFL1 or 2 can ask for a postponement they have to have three or more players called away. Bear in mind we could have lost Shandon Baptiste too. He’s probably one of the most loved players on the books at present based on just what he’s done on the pitch already in the few hours he’s played for us, but throw in that he put club before country and legendary status could beckon if he hangs around with us.  (Useless fact – The population of Oxford is larger than that of Grenada).

One of the reasons I used the term “so-called fans” above is that some of the posts seem a bit troll like. If they really are Oxford fans posting some of the stuff out there they’re doing the work of our rivals for them. I’ve read that the signings Karl Robinson has made are the worst someone has seen in an Oxford shirt. Beggar’s belief. I’ve read that Jon Obika couldn’t score to save his life. That was after he’d scored against Coventry so 100% embarrassing bullshit. That of course doesn’t make him a player I’d want as a regular starter but if he’s playing I’ll support him. Another scapegoat is Jon Mitchell. You’d think no other goal-keeper anywhere has ever given a penalty away.

Although we lost at Wycombe on our last visit in our promotion season, we’d won the previous three so have been able to stand up to their usual physical game in the past. This is of course a different team and I do have some concerns in this regard. Jamie Hanson might have been useful here but we’re still without him because of the crazy rules the knob heads who run football have in place. Hanson’s red card offence at Newport was in the referee’s eyes for serious foul play which brings with it a three match ban. Except it’s not that simple. The suspension also covers non-first team competitive matches but they don’t count towards the three. So Hanson wasn’t allowed to play in the Checkatrade game against Fulham in addition to the games against Sunderland, Coventry and Wycombe. For me that’s tantamount to admitting that particular trophy is a pile of shite.

Second bottom we stay after a goalless away day – Wycombe Wanderers 0 Oxford United 0

Keeping our first clean sheet of the season in a league game has to go down as a positive but before anyone gets too carried away the Chairboys are one of seven teams that have scored even fewer goals than us. So they’re hardly prolific and we did still look quite vulnerable when defending high balls coming in from corners and free kicks. All thoughts were obviously on Cameron Brannagan’s well-being half way through the first half when he landed awkwardly on his neck and thankfully it appears that he’s okay. But neither he nor the other Cameron, Mr Noman, had effectively marked Randell Williams who powered a header against the bar. As he fell to the ground Brannagan was behind the Wycombe man and Norman being nowhere near getting his head on the ball, just stuck a foot out and up.

Then in added time there was the disallowed Adebayo Akinfenwa header from a free-kick. Being at the opposite end it was impossible to see why it was disallowed but replays show him to be marginally off-side. I’d also say it looked like he’d pulled Curtis Nelson as he made his run, if that’s what you call it, and also that he used Nelson’s back to help propel his bulk off the deck. So it could have been ruled out for a number of, possibly spurious, reasons.

This aside though we’re nowhere near as vulnerable defensively as we were at the start of the season. In the first four games we conceded 13 goals. In the next four we have only let in four.

In goal Jon Mitchell did nothing wrong other than a tiny bit of poor distribution and for the most part I thought he was quite commanding but I’d have to study his reaction to those set piece high balls in much more detail to give him a total thumbs up. I’ve no problems with him being our custodian.

Luke Garbutt returned at left back and his awful early season form looks a thing of the past. On the other side Norman was pretty steady and got forward as he does but I don’t think his reading of the game is always the best.

The captaincy had been transferred from one centre-half to the other but this action didn’t have a detrimental impact on the performance of either. I’d say Nelson is now back at it and probably just needed game time after that terrible injury but is he still a player that will be sold to a Premier League club for a few million? If he doesn’t sign a new contract and ends up going on a free then it could be said the gamble on taking him and having to pay the £280k fee set by tribunal back in 2016 didn’t pay off. That’s a lot of money for a club our size to get no return on other than CN playing for us and he will obviously have been paid for that anyway. I don’t blame him for not signing yet, or at all. That’s just the way these things work.

I didn’t notice so much of classy but probably over confident dillydallying in possession by John Mousinho here but I’d still like him to, on occasion, go for the ball with a bit more of the Gary Briggs about him. (I’ll regret saying that when he gives a penalty away).

Josh Ruffels was called on to play three quarters of the game and with Shandon Baptiste formed a solid central midfield partnership.

James Henry and Ricky Holmes were way better than they’d been on Sky and we had Whyte back. (Marcus Browne though we have learnt is another footballer we’ve got who is not going to be fully functional without treatment). This meant we were much more threating and played the early period of the game in the opposition half. I thought the injury to Brannagan knocked us back a bit but still without question we looked the side most likely to break through and over the 90 plus minutes it was us who had more of an argument that we deserved the extra two points.

But if you don’t score you don’t win football matches and we didn’t score. We came close many times but we need better than close. James Henry had a shot tipped onto the bar by keeper Ryan Allsop, Whyte also tested him in the first half and Baptiste had an effort go just wide. In the second half I was convinced a Nelson header had gone in and Ruffels also very nearly scored.

It’s hard to get any flowing football going against a team playing the Gareth Ainsworth way but we did so, albeit fleetingly. For all our decent play we weren’t what I’d call slick and anywhere near the top of our game (well the game some of these players should be capable of playing). I thought many dwelt on the ball a little too long and even though they may have been in a pretty good position themselves failed either to notice or acknowledge a colleague even better placed. I don’t remember incisive first time passing in areas of the pitch that hurt a well organised back line.

This brings me back as ever to our forward / no.9 / man up top. Again we had no one really disrupting them, dragging them around and making them uneasy. Jon Obika put in a shift and once ran from player to keeper to player and forced an error which gained us a throw in. That’s the sort of work rate needed to win matches and didn’t go un-noticed by those sat near me but when Obika is concerned a little bit of sarcasm has to be thrown in too.

Of course I’d like to see our man furthest forward scoring goals but as important is the contribution provided by winning aerial duels, hold up play and laying on chances for team mates. I can’t see that in him.

I don’t know who wrote the “match report supplied by the Press Association” but they must have been asleep when Sam Smith replaced Obika. So far SS has done nowhere near enough to justify the patience shown in getting him to OUFC but there was a very little glimpse here of a player possibly worth having. His lay back in the area to Holmes could have produced so much more had Ricky been able to find a shooting chance. This may have been one of those situations when the ball was moved on again much quicker.

One major factor in the outcome I’ve not yet mentioned has to be the referee and the way he did or more to the point mostly didn’t deal with foul play. David Webb was supposed to be the man in charge.

Before I go further I have to say that we were not without guilt but I’m darned sure we were more sinned against than the other way round.

I’ll start with the incident in which Baptiste got carded. We had committed men forward and our attack broke down. A quartered shirt picked the ball up and set off down the middle. Three times we tried to illegally stop this quick break.  Each merited a booking. Webb did well to allow advantage the first two times. I think Baptiste was twice the perpetrator and rightly took a yellow. A melee then followed in the centre circle with handbags and bodies all over the place. We had a man lying flat on his back but it was nearly impossible to decipher what happened. If he’d been lamped or shoved over then a red would have been the right punishment. Two more yellows were brandished. One for Mousinho and one for Jason McCarthy.

We only got caught out badly once by the ball over the top. Fred Onyedinma was then about to pull the trigger when he was pushed off balance by Nelson and the shot was skewed into the side netting. Very much a penalty in my view.

Now the other side of it all.

We had three really strong penalty shouts ourselves. Smith was grappled and from where I was could clearly see an arm swung round and into Browne’s face knocking him to the floor. Webb ran up and blew for a free kick to the home team. A massive head shaker. The other one was Mous being held as he tried to get to a corner. Wycombe’s grabbing and blocking on such occasions was almost total. Webb did diddly squat to stop it.


This might be a bit blurry but watching the clip it is clear that Nelson is having his shirt pulled, Obika is being held and our man on the far edge of the 6 yd box is having his run completely blocked.

There were other instances when he did us no favours. Whyte being pulled back and play allowed to continue. Norman going down the wing and being fouled only to have the decision awarded against him. A challenge I thought was about the same as the one Jamie Hanson got sent off for going ….. (Must stop I could go on).

In summary these two teams on what we saw here are going to struggle at the wrong end of the table. The 2/1 on us going down that could have been picked up last week has now gone and the best odds available are currently 7/4. Plymouth are down to evens but look how they started and what they subsequently did last season. So I’ve not yet pencilled in Forest Green for a year hence but the best I can currently hope for is mid table anonymity. No, more realistically lower mid-table.

Support and the day out

This was the first time I’ve travelled to Wycombe away by train. As I was walking to the station going in the opposite direction was a regular traveller and his son who hadn’t managed to get a ticket for the match. We sold out our allocation of 1,816 and that number provided a quality backing. Without doubt we could have shifted a fair few more. If Wanderers had wanted they could have given us more as they used to do. It’s not as if the home support is filling Adams Park, only just over 5k turned up for this local derby of theirs. We had over one in four of the crowd and it’s not even a local derby.

I heard there was a bit of trouble last year in the Hour Glass but this isn’t Swindon so I was a bit taken aback at the police presence when we alighted in Buckinghamshire. I really do appreciate the boys and girls in blue keeping law and order and ensuring safety on our streets. I do though find it a bit strange when we hear that they have not got the man (and woman) power to deal with certain types of incident on a timely basis, if at all. Football must be categorised differently. During the day I saw not a hint of bother.

No, I didn’t go to that pub but the pubs I did visit deserve a mention. The Bootlegger is only a stride or two away from the station. They carry a vast range of speciality bottled beers and ciders but draft it was for us. Good quality too. Then it was on to the mouthful that is the Mad Squirrel Brewery Shop Emporium. It opened two years ago and is an outlet for the Red Squirrel brewery. It also has plenty of bottled beers and six real ales on. It’s also a pizzeria.

It was in this establishment I received the team news by text and read player by player out to fellow fans. That included the subs. Shearer, Raglan, Dickie, Smith, Browne, Long, Ruffels. Utterly childish I know but if they’re read out in a certain order there’s a snigger in there. I’ll leave it up to you.

Winter notes our discontent

There was a short article in the Times last Tuesday by Henry Winter under the heading, “Difficult landlords not helping Oxford”.  I don’t know where he got his information from but well done for putting it out there in a national broadsheet. He notes the frustration between the club and Firoka and says that there has even been internal talk of moving to a non-league ground. He quotes the annual rent of approx. £1m and then goes on to say “there are many restrictions, including on exactly when they can enter the ground on match days. The kitman is often laying out the strips when players are arriving, according to sources.” This tallies with what I’ve heard. Additionally, “Oxford were also shocked by the thought of paying £3,000 for 90 minutes’ training on the pitch when they sought temporary facilities. The Sky Bet League One club’s poor results are as much down to a spate of injuries to important players, but the mood among Oxford’s staff cannot be helped by tensions with the landlords.”

We’ve known for many years that the tenant / landlord situation is a millstone round our necks the size of an elephant except that we do talk about it occasionally. It’s this probably more than anything that is holding back meaningful development and progression of Oxford United FC. It’s actually more likely to be dragging us back the other way.

I’d always thought that what we were paying was a bit excessive and knew there was a built in inflationary increase but had not appreciated it had got quite this high. It’s scandalous but comes back to who put pen to paper and did the negotiating on OUFC’s behalf back in the Ian Lenagan / Nick Merry era. I’ve said it many times, but Firoz Kassam is a business man. He holds all the cards. He was given those cards way back.

After the Burton game I wrote that “DE probably thought it would be a lot easier to negotiate with Kassam than it is. The arbitration dispute rumbles on.  OxVox met with Niall McWilliams, OUFC MD, on June 19th when he told them he expected the dispute to be resolved shortly.”

I recall back in the day Kelvin Thomas telling us that although a deal wasn’t imminent good progress was being made regarding the stadium. Was that really the case? I think it will ever be thus and honestly cannot see a solution that is in any way helpful to Oxford United. You can slag FK off all you like, and that can be so difficult not to, but realistically what good does that actually do?

Until recently I’d assumed that the rental agreement meant OUFC had use of the stadium, excluding conference facilities 365 days a year, 24×7. Like renting a house. How naïve. We get very little for our money. Firoka get a lot.

After the last FV I was kindly informed that there is no longer a legal requirement for private companies to hold an AGM. But a Fans Forum has been announced for next Saturday before the Walsall game. I’ll be honest and say I don’t think we’ll hear anything genuinely significant or exciting. We’ll probably get a number of inane and cringeworthy questions from the floor. Any that are insightful will probably be answered with generalisations. And we’ll learn nothing new about OUFC versus Firoka. Or anything else much come to that. There, that’s set the bar at just about ground level.

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 16th, 2018 at 4:57 pm and appears under Fan's View, News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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